Saturday, November 3, 2012

Reading: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

To start out this book review, I want to talk about why The Shallows by Nicholas Carr was a book that I felt that I needed to read.  I'm a kid that grew up in the 90's generation and you know what that means - when I turned 13, I was an internet junkie.  If the internet was considered a drug, I would probably be high off it every single day - actually, I am high off it every single day.  Or maybe I'm low off it every single day.  The computer used to be this fun place where I could play Backyard Baseball and Jumpstart Typing.  Then the internet became more accessible when we got rid of dial-up and got Comcast internet, now known as Xfinity.  At the age of 13 I was obsessed with music that most people my age didn't like.  I turned to the internet to connect with other fans and found that I could be more myself in front of the computer screen than in front of actual people.  I made tons of Xanga blogs and then moved to Myspace where I updated my profile probably ten times a day and then I moved to facebook where I just had to update my status time and time again and pray to God that it would get lots of likes and comments.  Then I entered the world of college where texting was unrestricted.  We didn't need the internet anymore to automatically connect with our friends and our internet friends. 
It was when I entered college that I began to realize the effects the internet and technology had had on my life.  I was still just as shy as I was at the age of 13.  I couldn't connect easily with other people and felt safer at my computer chair.  My heart became jealous all of the time of my friends and how they always seemed to talk to each other through texting and facebook but never to me.  My friends would text about someone in the same room as them!  Even when I was chatting with my friends, they would text while I was talking and they wouldn't hear me.  They would text while we watched TV and then turn to me asking what just happened.  When I confronted them, they became defensive.  I also found that I couldn't even get through a chapter of a book because my phone was vibrating every second and I felt the need to answer every time because if I didn't, my friends would get mad that I had a life separate from them.  It made me so frustrated all of the time.  Typing about it now just brings bad memories that are just so so bad that it makes my heart ache.  I hated who I was becoming.  I was always...angry. 
Another thing that seemed different about me was that I was never reading or writing.  I mean, sure I still read and wrote but not as much as I seemed to in high school.  In high school, I finished writing a novel that was 402 pages long.  In college, I had barely written 50 pages.  Reading was easier because it didn't require the same amount of effort as writing but I was still on my computer and the internet way more than I was reading.  I found that I had a hard time writing if I wasn't using a computer.  I found it hard to stay focused in my daily life.  I found it hard to juggle my internet life, my social life, my literary life, my student life, and my spiritual life.  I knew technology was an addiction but I continued to do it anyway and so did everyone else.  When I entered my junior year, I finally realized that this needed to stop.  I didn't want to buy an ipad and I didn't want a smart phone.  I didn't want to keep depending on computers.  I became aware how my brain was changing but didn't know how to explain this to my friends and family.  I added this book to my Amazon Wishlist and was so excited to see that it was required for a class in Fall 2012.
The Shallows is a detailed look at how technology has altered our brains.  While the book is specific to the technologies today such as the internet and computers and smart phones and e-readers, it greatly touches upon technology itself and talks about earlier technologies such as the clock and the printing press.  Technology has been changing for years and our brains have changed along with it.  For example, before the printing press people were used to oral storytelling.  When the printing press arrived, books became the new medium for storytelling and while oral storytelling didn't stop, it wasn't as popular as it once was.  Socrates, the believed founder of Western culture, claimed that writing would destroy the rich oral culture and Carr writes, "Socrates argues that a dependence on the technology of the alphabet will alter a person’s mind, and not for the better. By substituting outer symbols for inner memories, writing threatens to make us shallower thinkers, he says, preventing us from achieving the intellectual depth that leads to wisdom and true happiness."  I have to disagree with this statement because I believe writing and reading makes me think a lot more and helps exercise my mind.  If Socrates were speaking of technology today then I would probably agree.  While technology can bring a lot of benefits, we humans often use it to our demise.  As J.K. Rowling says in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, "Humans have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them."
Carr also discusses the brain a lot in this book almost to the point where I wondered what it had to do with the book's topic.  He talks about studies done on the brain and relates these studies to technology and today's culture.  One thing I felt when I became annoyed with technology was that I was always being shouted at.  The radio shouted loud and obnoxious music with no deeper meaning and the TV shouted at me to be a certain way and act a certain way and the internet shouted at me about politics and understanding every single culture on the planet and my brain felt like it would explode!  Carr writes, "By combining many different kinds of information on a single screen, the multimedia Net further fragments content and disrupts our concentration.  A single Web page may contain a few chunks of text, a video or audio stream, a set of navigational tools, various advertisements, and several small software applications, or “widgets,” running in their own windows.  We all know how distracting this cacophony of stimuli can be.  We joke about it all the time.  A new e-mail message announces its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site.  A few seconds later, our RSS reader tells us that one of our favorite bloggers has uploaded a new post.  A moment after that, our mobile phone plays the ringtone that signals an incoming text message.  Simultaneously, a Facebook or Twitter alert blinks on-screen.  In addition to everything flowing through the network, we also have immediate access to all the other software programs running on our computers – they, too, compete for a piece of our mind.  Whenever we turn on our computer, we are plunged into an ‘ecosystem of interruption technologies,’ as the blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow terms it.”  The goal of technology today seems to be to distract us human beings!  How do they expect any of us to get work done?  Technology demands of us our full attention and we, with our now shallows brains, commit to this as if this is the way the world works.  The reason I first began questioning technology was for the fact that my friend once got mad at me for not texting her back in an ideal time.  I asked her, how did we communicate before texting?  How did people communicate before phones existed?  We should be grateful that we have them, not abuse the privilege!  Technology demands my attention so I can't give my attention to anything else.  No wonder I'm juggling all of my separate lives!
Overall, this book was a great read and really insightful to how technology has been affecting our brains for centuries.  The ideas Carr presents really helped me understand technology in my own life and I can finally explain my reasons to my friends and family without sounding like a total loser.  If there was one thing I didn't like about the book, it was that it seemed to stray off topic at times because it became so in depth about the brain and technology before our time.  While I believe all this content was necessary, I couldn't help but grow bored while reading.  That could be my modern technologically shallow brain talking though, right?  But, in a world that worships this technology, this book is a flower in the rain.  I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  I recommend everyone pick this up!

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